‘Rent’ inspiration speaks on HIV/AIDS
Published: Monday, April 2, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 2, 2012 00:04
Scott Fried, an actor, HIV/AIDS lecturer and author, stood before USF students Thursday and pulled secrets from his proverbial “pocket” — phrases many might hesitate to say, such as “Should I have used a condom?” and “I should get tested for HIV,” before getting intimate with someone.
During a lecture titled “Love, Sex, STIs, HIV: The Secret Lives of College Students,” Fried said his refusal to use those words contributed to his becoming HIV-positive more than 20 years ago, and joining an AIDS support group credited as the inspiration behind the musical “Rent.”
Fried said everyone keeps “words that we’d never text, words that we’d never tweet,” and “words that we’d never say on Facebook” hidden in their pockets— “Words that we have heard or used but don’t want to repeat. Words that we call our secrets,” he said.
Twenty years ago, Fried said he hid the words “condom” and “HIV” in his pocket when he should have instead discussed them with his first sexual partner.
After graduating from New York University in 1987, Fried’s first job was cleaning a trap door under an opera stage. There, a man named Racey approached him and said he knew Fried’s secret — he was gay.
Racey gave Fried his phone number and Fried called him later that day. It was a contradiction to call, he said, because entering a romantic relationship with a man was something he had always told himself he would never do. But people need to allow themselves to be who they are and accept their contradictions, Fried said.
Plus, he liked the way Racy smelled.
Though Racey told Fried he was tested every six months for syphilis, which he was born with, Fried never asked him if he was ever tested for AIDS. He said he figured Racey would have told him.
“I left my words in the pockets of my jeans,” he said.
That night, Fried contracted HIV after having unprotected sex for the first and only time, though he said three things led to his HIV-positive diagnosis.
“No. 1, because I didn’t use a condom, so I got infected,” he said. “The second reason I got infected was because I didn’t think it happens to nice guys like me. The main reason I got infected with HIV was because I wanted (others) to love me.”
Fried said he grew up with words, such as “bonus” and “f-----,” that made him feel like a lesser person compared to the rest of society.
“Bonus” was a word that made Fried feel like he wasn’t necessarily wanted — his mother called him Bonus because, while pregnant, she did not realize she was carrying twins and Fried was the second baby born.
“F-----” was a word Fried connects to a memory from George Washington University, where he attended before transferring to NYU. He found the word on a photo of a naked man taped to his dorm room door, with the inscription, “Dear Scott, this picture is for you because I love you, you f-----.”
Ashamed, Fried said he folded the picture and forced it into his pocket, the place where he hid his sexuality from everyone because he wanted to belong.
“We all want to be loved,” he said. “We all want somebody to belong to, but we want it just as we are. Whether we are overweight, underweight, gay or straight, sexually active or not … as we are should be enough.”
Though he is still HIV-positive, Fried said he has forgiven Racey for the words he neglected to tell him, because holding a grudge against Racey would be like holding a grudge against himself.
“To the degree that I’m going to hold a grudge against him, I’m (then) going to have to hold a grudge against myself for the rest of my life for doing what I did,” he said. “And I don’t want to live like that.”